Louisville Cardinals players and coach Pitino celebrate basket agasint Syracue Orange during second half in Big East NCAA men's basketball game in New York

Louisville-Duke Preview: Legendary coaches and more with Final Four berth on the line

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Louisville came into the NCAA tournament as one of the country’s hottest teams and that hasn’t changed in its pursuit of the Final Four. Now, coach Rick Pitino and the Cardinals are one win away, impeded only by a long-standing symbol of college basketball supremacy, Duke. Can Coach K and the Blue Devils continue to run on the fuel of strong guard play into the Final Four? Check out a position-by-position preview below:

Guards

Duke point guard Quinn Cook has been much more of a facilitator than a scorer in three NCAA tournament games thus far. Through three rounds, he is averaging 3.7 points on 4-of-21 shooting from the floor, but also has 19 assists to just six turnovers. His ability maintain the pace Sunday will be key for Duke against a Louisville defensive attack that will want to speed him up and turn him over. If that cycle of turnovers to points starts taking hold for Louisville, we end up seeing stretches like in the second half against Syracuse in the Big East tournament title game.

On the other hand, both Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon have carried the offensive load. Curry went for 29 points in the win over Michigan State, while Sulaimon had 21 against Creighton and another 16 against the Spartans.

For Louisville, the major question facing Louisville coming into the tournament was whether or not Peyton Siva and Russ Smith would play like they did around this time last year or slump like we had seen at points during the season. Smith has been a consistent scorer through three games, while Siva has been steady. Siva needs to outplay Cook on Sunday.

Forwards 

Ryan Kelly has not been nearly as hot in the NCAA tournament as he was when he initially came back from injury toward the end of the season. His ability to stretch the floor from the power forward position makes it easier for Curry, Sulaimon, Cook, and Plumlee to create and get good shots for themselves. Will he turn it on today?

Louisville will have to counter with Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear, and Chane Behanan. If we add Luke Hancock into the mix of forwards, his ability to stretch the floor as Kelly does and hit from the outside adds another dimension to Louisville offensive attack.

Centers

Mason Plumlee versus Gorgui Dieng will be one of the better one-on-one post matchups we’ve seen in this tournament. Plumlee has been the senior centerpiece for Duke all season, while it has been striking to see the development of Dieng on the offensive end to be a passer and legitimate scorer to complement Louisville’s other pieces.

Dieng will need to be the presence in the paint that Michigan State lacked in its loss to Duke. His ability to deny and keep Duke’s guards away from the rim will be crucial on Sunday. If he can block shots and force Duke to take more jump shots than it is comfortable with, missed shots and run-outs added to turnovers would tilt the table in Louisville’s favor.

Tip off is at approximately 5:05 p.m. ET.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

How did Gary Clark catch that alley-oop?

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 24:  Gary Clark #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against the Tulane Green Wave at Fifth Third Arena on January 24, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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No. 15 Cincinnati pounced on Memphis from the start, taking a 51-32 lead into halftime.

Then, Gary Clark decided to add insult to injury to start the second half. Seriously, how did he catch that?

Mick Cronin’s team is much better offensively than in previous seasons. I’m sure fans in the Fifth Third Arena can get used to seeing more plays like this.

Cassius Winston ends half with half-court 3-pointer

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans talks with Cassius Winston #5 in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Michigan State freshman guard Cassius Winston had just one field goal in the first half. And it was a half-court buzzer-beater as the Spartans capped a sizable run to take a 49-31 lead over Nebraska going into the break.

The Spartans ended the half on a 21-5 run.

Winston provided a serious boost off the bench during that stanza. Moments earlier, he helped the Breslin Center erupt when he lobbed a pass off the backboard to teammate Miles Bridges.

Michigan State opened the day projected as one of the final at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. The margin for error is thing and it appears the Spartans are playing with a sense of urgency.

 

CBT Podcast: Mark Titus recaps Wednesday’s games

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 22: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks lays the ball up against JD Miller #15 and Jaylen Fisher #0 of the TCU Horned Frogs in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse on February 22, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Wednesday’s slate of games had several wild results.

Former Ohio State walk-on turned blogger turned author Mark Titus, who is currently writing for The Ringer, joined Rob Dauster on the latest episode of the CBT Podcast to go over last night’s games. The two also discussed who is the best team in the nation at the moment, as well Frank Mason III’s rap single from several years ago #BIFM

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

Roy Williams apologizes to Rick Pitino, hopes that never happens at UNC again

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 16:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates after his 800th career victory with a 85-68 win over the Syracuse Orange at the Dean Smith Center on January 16, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina’s Roy Williams called fellow Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino to apologize for a fan’s behavior during Wednesday night’s game in Chapel Hill.

While leaving the floor at halftime, Pitino had to be restrained by members of the Louisville coaching staff and he and a UNC fan exchanged words as he made his way to the locker rom. There’s video of Pitino pointing and shouting at a fan, who reportedly said, “Pitino, you suck!”

“I don’t like that,” Williams said, according to the Charlotte Observer. “I mean we’re in North Carolina. We don’t have to be like everybody else. We can raise Cain. You can boo, but you don’t have to say the stuff that we as coaches have to put up with.”

“I hope that never happens at North Carolina ever again.”

No. 8 North Carolina defeated No. 7 Louisville, 74-63.

Bubble Banter: It’s a quiet night on the bubble

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Miles Bridges #22 reacts after being taken out of the game by head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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STILL TO PLAY

Georgia at Alabama (RPI: 68, KenPom: 61, next four teams), 7:00 p.m.

Nebraska at Michigan State (RPI: 43, KenPom: 55, No. 10 seed), 7:00 p.m.

Towson at UNC Wilmington (RPI: 41, KenPom: 57, No. 12 seed), 7:00 p.m.